Searching for blog posts tagged with 'lagos'

THE POLITICS OF DIRT AND THE DIRT OF POLITICS: DEMOLITION FEVER GRIPS MAKOKO by John Uwa

Apr

15

When the news first hit the Stand that the Lagos State Government of Nigeria plans to demolish the water settlement which goes by the name Makoko, what first came to my mind and all other followers of the event, as I supposed, was the demolition of Maroko in 1989. Like Makoko, Maroko was inhabited by low income earners who lacked some basic social amenities like portable water and waste disposal materials. With the absence of these basic amenities Maroko was tagged “dirty” and marked out for demolition. Today, some the choicest areas in Lagos like Lekki Phase 1 and 2 where top class Lagosians now live is what we have left of Maroko. Makoko is one of the over 40 slums we have in Lagos State (Betty Abah: 2014), and the state government is stopping at nothing to claim this settlement which is situated in front of the lagoon and also boast of a sizeable number of lumber mill, water trading and fishing. With the government’s threat of demolition which has attracted human right activists, locally and internationally, Makoko is now in the spotlight of a serious political debate and litigation between the State Government and other stakeholders. “Dirt” appears to be the main issue of contention. The state government has given two reasons for the attempted demolition of Mokoko. 1. The huge dirt generated from this slum pose serious health and environmental threat; and 2. The master plan and the beautification of Lagos stipulate that such areas of the state like Makoko should be demolished and reconstructed (for who?). On its part, the inhabitants, human right and environmental activists are claiming that the government has deliberately abandoned the area so as to justify its demolition plans.

As a ‘dirt’ researcher, I thought that a visit to this slum would provide some insight into the politics of demolishing and the reclaiming Makoko; and indeed, my visit to this part of Lagos revealed some truth. The area which is situated in front of the Lagoon provides some sort of ambience which can connect one with nature; the same kind of landscape which ‘influenced’ the takeover of Maroko by the State Government. I also thought that the huge waste generated in this slum must be really disturbing when we begin to talk about health and environmental challenges. Incidentally the adjoining water is used for bathing, fishing and defecation. While I was still thinking of this discovery, I realised that the presence of government in terms of public school, health centre, portable water and waste disposal materials is totally unavailable. What came to mind afterward was a series of questions which every researcher of ‘dirt’ may have to ponder upon. Why is the government not making it presence felt? Could the tag “dirty” be used as an excuse to demolish Makoko?  In whose interest is the demolition? Can dirt be used as an index to exclude some people or give advantage to some people over others? What does Makoko need, demolition or government presence?  One thing is obvious; ‘dirt’ appears to have been employed as and index to justify certain action, and to compel recognition.

The attached pictures from Makoko and Otto Ilogbo which were taken in the course of DirtpPol research may provide some sort of semiotic view for further interpretation and investigation.

 

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MAKOKO

 

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MAKOKO

 

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RIGHT ON THE SLUM. OTTO ILOGBO

 

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OTTO ILOGBO

 

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Defecating right into the water

 

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Floating Restaurant



About the author:  John Uwa is a project researcher on the DirtPol project and is concerned primarily with issues pertaining to dirt in media and communication.  John's based in Lagos, has an MA in English Literature and speaks Yoruba, English and Pidgin.

About the project: DirtPol is an international cultural studies project based at the University of Sussex.  For more information please visit www.sussex.ac.uk/dirtpol

Follow DirtPol on Twitter: @ProjectDirtPol

Reflections from the field: Getting my first ‘NO’ by Jane Nebe

Jun

10

Field work started in earnest for me immediately I arrived Nigeria, after the three weeks training at the University of Sussex, UK, despite the one week Leave given to us all. The reason was not farfetched considering that my portfolio revolved around schools. Schools were already in their fifth week of resumption, leaving me with just about five weeks of school term time before examinations commenced, to meet the target for the pilot study. Fortunately, the letter of approval for research access into the State owned primary schools, was ready before my return. I was taken to the State owned primary school I had mapped out to begin research in, by the representative of the Education Secretary in charge of its Local Government Education Authority. Introductions were made and the reception at the school was very warm and cooperative. I spent the first few days developing a sample frame for the age brackets of interest and a sample matrix that would cover range and diversity to a reasonable extent. Afterwards, I purposively selected my sample, classroom by classroom.

Following the ethical stipulations of the research, I began by introducing myself and explaining the project to the selected group in the first classroom. It was a group of eight, four males and four females, and some of them asked very pertinent questions. Then, the process of seeking their informed and voluntary consent began. I did this by calling each of them separately (I didn’t want a situation where a pupil’s consent or non-consent is influenced by his/her peers), explaining the details of the project again and seeking their consent. Now, this is a first for me – that is, seeking children’s (and parental) voluntary and informed consent in a research that involved them. Prior to this project, I was of the opinion that the school gatekeeper’s consent was adequate and had previously conducted research on that premise. Six of the pupils gave their verbal and written consent, which gave me the permission to begin the process of seeking their parental consent. One of the pupils asked for time to consider the request as well as discuss with her parent. Then, there was the boy who said ‘NO’.

The boy was aged eight but had a smaller body structure compared to his peers. While talking to the group, I noticed that he stayed distracted throughout. In fact, he was the reason I decided to explain the project again when I called each of them separately. As I talked to him, I could see that staying focused on me was difficult for him. I am not a trained psychologist; hence, I would not even attempt psychoanalysis. When I asked him for any questions he might have, he started to speak in English and faltered. Was it a language problem? So, I repeated the explanations in the Yoruba language. Then, I asked him for questions and if he would like to participate in the project. He looked at me for a few seconds and then shook his head in the negative. I rephrased the question, perhaps he misunderstood the question. Again, he shook his head in the negative and this time, emphatically. So, I thanked him and asked him to return to his seat. Yes, I was surprised but I learnt that I should never ‘judge a book by its cover’. Most importantly, I now see clearly the need to obtain voluntary and informed consent from the child. It is not merely because research ethics demands it. It is because the child is a whole and distinct individual, just like me.

 

About the author:  Jane Nebe is a project researcher on the DirtPol project and is concerned primarily with issues pertaining to dirt in education and schools.  Jane is based in Lagos, her academic background is in pedagogy and she speaks Igbo, Yoruba, Nigerian Pidgin and English.

About the project: DirtPol is an international cultural studies project based at the University of Sussex.  For more information please visit the DirtPol website.  

Between Prostitution and Polygyny in Africa: The Implication for Culture by John Olatunde Uwa

Aug

07

As a researcher and a cultural archivist sampling perception and conceptions of dirt in Africa, I have had the opportunity of engaging a number of individuals on topical issues that revolve around ‘dirt’ in Africa. Some of these issues cut through the themes of religion, ethnicity, corruption, prostitution, civil partnership, robbery, poverty and such like. On a particular occasion, I had cause to interview a man on the theme of prostitution as a canvas for the collective odium that has followed those who solicit. This fellow made two striking submissions which I thought might be of interest to this forum. The first is that, prostitution is totally alien to Africa; while the second is that, polygyny is a structure that was put in place from primordial time in Africa to check, curb or prevent the practice of prostitution.

Whether prostitution is alien or not is not the question here as prostitution is already a global phenomenon, even in countries where the practice is considered as ‘haram’. What is quite puzzling here is that, between prostitution and polygyny in Africa, there are cultural codes that signify how both practices may be perceived. The former is an abomination; while the Later is a valid cultural practice, believed to have been handed down to prevent prostitution. But since prostitution is a ‘trade’, can polygyny solve the financial requirements of the woman? Of what economic benefit is polygyny to the woman? Even if we assume that prostitution is for sexual gratification, is it possible for a single man in a polygamous union to give all the women in the union the gratification they require? The assumption is that, while the man may be getting all the gratification he wants, some or all of the women in the union are denied total sexual gratification.  

 In spite of these burning questions, proves abound to show that about 90% of Nigerian women would rather be involved in a polygamous union than get involve in prostitution, when faced with the two variables. This is mainly due to their cultural and religious orientation more than what they are truly capable of doing. These cultural orientations which manifest themselves in taboo, abomination, witchcraft etc. tends to act as a strong restriction against the activities of the id. However, there is a latent content that becomes operational beyond the limit of social conformity.  Beyond this limit of social conformity in which culture and religion gives no answer, and in which ‘prostitutes’ find themselves, every woman become capable of soliciting. In other words, there is a limit to which every human can be in social conformity and there is a limit to which culture and religion can provide answers; and beyond this point, there is an ambient in which humans are capable of anything, and prostitution is not an exception. It is at such point that women are also capable of exhibiting the same tendencies that can make a man crave for more than one wife or woman.

Elsewhere in the world, especially among some nations of Europe, polygyny is unacceptable; however, it is an ‘accepted’ norm in Africa. Considering this paradox and the influence of a dominant culture, which is propelled by financial crunch, in a new global order which African is part of, what is the place of a primordial culture that is believed to prevent prostitution? What is the future of prostitution as we push towards the limit of social conformity and beyond? While it may be easy for us to keep theorizing, it must be must be noted that a culture that is inelastic is like a carved deity who becomes vindictive to those who provide it with palm oil and other libations; he is either reminded of the tree from which he was carved out, or turned into firewood while other deities are erected in ‘his’ place.      

About the author:  John Uwa is a project researcher on the DirtPol project and is concerned primarily with issues pertaining to dirt in media and communication.  John's based in Lagos, has an MA in English Literature and speaks Yoruba, English and Pidgin.

About the project: DirtPol is an international cultural studies project based at the University of Sussex.  For more information please visit www.sussex.ac.uk/dirtpol

Follow DirtPol on Twitter: @ProjectDirtPol

What We Call Dirty by Olutoyosi Tokun

Sep

01

In the last couple of days I have been combing through popular blogs and online forums in Nigeria in search of representations of dirt, and it has been quite an experience. It has been interesting to read the opinions of the average person on happenings in the society. I would like to share this striking comment;

Topic being discussed: Malawi Officially Suspends Anti-homosexuality Laws.

A participant’s response to another participant’s opinion:

“Your thought process is premised on a faulty data, so I can understand your limitations. Gay and Lesbian should never be left alone. They are dirt thus most be cleared. Nobody wants a dirty society? Would you be fine if you see your kids watching two male adult kissing on TV? Protect the society!”

During my search, I found out that topics like politics, skin bleaching, homosexuality, spirituality, Nollywood gay movies, illiteracy, other ethnic groups, scamming (advanced fee fraud), the bring-somebody-down syndrome have been described as dirty. These representations of dirt have been good starting points for discussions and in-depth interviews.

 

 

About the author: Olutoyosi is a project researcher on the DirtPol project and is our Lagos-based researcher looking at health and the environment.

About the project: DirtPol is an international cultural studies project based at the University of Sussex. For more information please visit the DirtPol website.

The Anatomy of Disgust - book review

Nov

17

The Anatomy of Disgust by William Ian Miller
Published 1997 by Harvard University Press in Cambridge
Originally written in English. Translated to Spanish and Italian in 1999, and Slovenian in 2006
Number of pages             320
Chosen best book by the Association of American Publishers, 1997, in sociology/anthropology.

 

William Miller’s sensational book Anatomy of Disgust describes all the disgusting things that we humans encounter and emit in our daily lives. Disgust According to William Miller is relative and almost everything can be disgusting depending on where it is placed or the nature of it.

To begin with, disgust is considered as a revulsion of something unpleasant or offensive. Disgust is experienced by sense of taste, smell, touch or through vision. Therefore, disgust is very sensational. According to William Miller, anything could be disgusting depending on how someone imagines it or sees, smells, tastes and feels it. Brian Curtis in his book titled Dirt, disgust, and disease: Is hygiene in our genes? States that elicitors of disgust include body products, food, animals, hygiene, body envelope violations, death, and visible signs of infection. These elicitors are discussed comprehensively by William Miller in his book, Anatomy of disgust.

Disgust, according to Miller, is a serious subject of discussion that implicates our morality, love, politics and the sense of self. What then this means is that disgust is part and parcel of our daily lives. We cannot run away from it. It is what has been used to define our morality, love, politics and the sense of self. The author thus views disgust as a very broad theme.

William Miller insist on the essential and domineering nature of disgust and its physicality and analyzes its sensational nature, citing how it has affected the human beings in almost every way. On page 201, the author says that with disgust, we are always in the grip of a sensation, not empowered by it but in the power of it. The author says that a review of the five human senses shows how each claim an independent and very important relation to disgust and its pre-modern synonyms, such as loathsome, abhorrent, abominable, rank and fulsome. Therefore, our five senses are very important in the discussion of disgust. We cannot talk of disgust without talking of the senses. They go hand in hand.

In a further discussion of the sensational nature of disgust, William Miller in the opening pages of the book cites Charles Darwin who at one time was eating dinner in his camp at Tierra del Fuego and a native touched the British food he was eating and immediately he felt disgusted. Darwin then lost appetite. He quotes Darwin as saying that “I felt utter disgust at my food being touched by a naked savage, though his hands did not appear dirty”. Although this shows Darwin’s utter hatred for the savage, it is a clear example of how much disgust is imagined and to a great extent, sensational.

Disgust is a relative aspect and what could be disgusting to you could not be disgusting to someone else. However, Miller points out some universal or shared feelings of disgust. He says that if we want to find a common response on which all people at all times and all places can agree, then the pus drinking of St Catherine of Siena is surely where to look at. As Catherine attended on one of her fellow nun who had breast cancer, she would decant pus from her breast and drink it. She did this to punish herself after vomiting during the dressing of the wound due to the stench from the wound. By Catherine vomiting, it means that the stench made her feel disgusted. Reading Catherine’s story brings unimaginable disgust to everyone. Miller thus points out that some situations brings a feeling of disgust to everyone.

Looking at Chapter three of the book titled Thick, Greasy Life, Miller describes several substances and how they could be disgusting depending on their form. For instance, he sites that although water in many situations is considered as a good thing, wateriness of some substances could be considered as a sign of disease and suppuration. This does not however mean that dryness of a substance is good enough because the author states that some dry substance such as scabs, skin flakes, and crust are also disgusting.

seaweed1 When it comes to a comparison of animals and plants, the author states that animals are much more disgusting than plants. Some animals are more disgusting than others. This, in my view is a very objective statement. The decomposition of plants is what particularly makes plant disgusting. Plants in their natural form are rarely disgusting. True to this because I cannot think of any disgusting plant in its natural form. However, the thoughts we evoke when it comes to eating some plants, can be disgusting. For instance, the thought of eating sea weed can be disgusting. This is a confirmation that disgust is sometimes a construction of our thoughts.

The author brings in an interesting aspect that what makes animals disgusting is not their disgusting nature but the mere thought of we eating them (pg. 48). Some animals that disgust do not disgust themselves but their characteristics disgust. The sliminess of some animals, slitheriness and teemingness of others. I got thinking of how a snail is disgusting due to the fact that it has mucus like substance covering its body. The mere sight of it is disgusting. I wonder then how disgusting it would be to imagine of eating it.

William Miller views boundaries in human beings as being defined by disgust. He cites it as what distinguishes “us” vs. “them”. To him, disgust locates the bounds of the other either as something to be avoided or something to be embraced. Something that is not disgusting is likeable but everyone distances him/herself from something that disgust. Regardless of whether that “thing” is human or just an object. The looks and behavior would normally bring some level of disgust and thus a boundary is created. I agree to the fact that disgust helps mark boundaries of culture and boundaries of self.  disgust

Miller also illustrates how disgust can be discussed in political arena. Disgust has been used to define the spaces between the bourgeoisies and the proletariats. The upper class individuals consider the lower classes as smelly. This of course works against the ideas of equality. But it also explains one of the reasons why there is normally less interaction between these two classes.

Towards the end of the book, Miller gives a very strong reason as to why the discussion on the subject of disgust is important. He says that disgust involves morality, self-loathing, prejudice and more private agendas of honor and duty. Therefore, he reminds us to be mindful to another cornerstone of polite society and respect.

 

 

About the author of this post: Job Mwaura is a project researcher on the DirtPol project and is concerned primarily with issues pertaining to dirt in media and communications. Job is based in Nairobi, Kenya, and completed his MSc in Communication and Journalism in 2013 at Moi University.

About the project: DirtPol is an international cultural studies project based at the University of Sussex. For more information please visit the DirtPol website.

Follow us on Twitter: @ProjectDirtpol

From Common Waste to Art with a Message: An Interview with Durodola Yusuf by JOHN UWA, DirtPol researcher

Apr

07

Curious about the shouts of “Oh my God!” coming from outside the DirtPol office at the University of Lagos, project researcher John Uwa decided to investigate. Outside the building on prominent display was a large portrait of the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos.

The reason this work of art elicits such a strong reaction from viewers is that the portrait is composed entirely of waste materials. Using Coke bottles, sardine cans, children’s toys, shoes, electrical circuit boards, shoe polish tins, and many more discarded everyday objects, the artist Durodola Yusuf put together this remarkable portrait of the VC in 2014 for his final degree show as an undergraduate in the Department of Creative Arts at the University of Lagos.

The portrait was not the artist’s initial idea when conceiving this project, but when he found that he could not afford the materials or time for his original concept--a three-dimensional “documentation” of UniLag Senate House made from metal screws--he decided to find an “icon” to stand in for everything that the building symbolises. What better subject than the Vice-Chancellor himself? Entitled “General Overseer”, the portrait of the VC is made entirely of waste materials. Through it, the artist interprets and represents the VC’s ability to negotiate with different people across the spectrum of the University.

 DirtPol researcher John Uwa interviewed the artist about his motivation and inspiration for creating this striking work of art:

JU: What informed your choice of this picture which you have virtually made from recyclable materials?

DY: As a final year student, my original intention for a project was to document the Senate House of the University of Lagos, such that it will break a Guinness world record. This is because I thought that people leaving UniLag should do things that are quite monumental. The Senate building to me is an architectural masterpiece that I have always wanted to document using screws; but when I took consideration of the timing and the financial implication, I realised that I may not be able to meet up within the specified date for project submission.

JU: O! This is sad.

DY: So, if I am unable to document the Senate building, then I should be able to document someone who works in the building, someone who controls the building and someone who can stand as an icon. Having decided to document a picture of the Vice Chancellor, I then thought of what to do to make the picture amazing; so I decide to use the data around me. These were the basic factors which informed my choice of this image.

Besides documenting an image which represents the Senate building, the picture also illuminates a person who is in charge of the school and its affairs; and this is how I came about the title: “The General Overseer”. The general overseer is someone who oversees the affairs and activities of somewhere or others. As someone who oversees the affairs of the school, I thought that different things should be used to represent the VC as one who oversees every aspect of the school, and to reflect the title of the work. I went round the school and saw how people dump things; how they pick up, use and dump items. This became another source of inspiration.

In an academic environment where various activities like academics, security and a whole lot of things are going on, the General Overseer must be receptive, tolerant, patient and accommodative to successfully manage the institution. He must be ready to accommodate so many people and their divergent behaviours. Having conceived the idea and picture of what I wanted to do, a picture of someone who can take a lot of things, I had to start collecting materials to develop my image. I decided to use ‘dirt’--the disposable things around me, recyclable materials from trash drums. This work which is experimental involves moving round and bringing materials together; and while I was collecting materials for work, both around the art studio and elsewhere on campus, people were wondering and asking, “what do you want to do with waste materials?” This is the whole essence, bringing things together, to recreate another. If you take a look at the book over there in the portrait, it is written: “coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress, working together is success”. 

So the beginning of this work is the collection of waste materials and merging them together. This involves moving around, picking up waste materials and dropping them on the project. The process of attaching the collected materials is what I have termed as keeping together, while working together is the final manifestation of the work which elicits the kind of surprises that you hear from outside your office. 

Interestingly, when I started the project, people asked all manner of questions--Why? What? Is he going to like this? But what was on my mind was to show people that with the right thinking, something can be created out of nothing; that problems can be solved through meditative thinking. So beyond what people can see, I am trying to imply, through this art work, that there may just be relevance behind that which appears to be irrelevant.

JU: That’s quite brilliant! Sometimes we sit up there in the DirtPol office and we hear people, who for the first time are catching a close glimpse of the picture, screaming--“Oh my God, Dirt!”. From what you have said, one of the symbolic implications suggested by your work is that the Vice Chancellor is an administrator who is endowed with the capacity to contend with the varying challenges of the institution. Now, do you by some chance know what the VC, or anyone close to him thinks of your artistic impression of him? Or have you had occasions where you were told by people around you that you didn’t have to do this work?

DY: Yeah, a lot of people said it. Even my supervisor said it, “Heh, in terms of art this is fantastic, this is good, but I don’t think this person will like you using junks like this to depict him”. But as an artist, one of your duties is to project and rebrand the nation. So, beyond using dirt to project the need for national rebranding, I am also using the work to pass on a message to the VC; and that is, he should be ready to take a lot of things and still remain focus.  Talking about focus, people condemned me when I first started this work, asking all manner of questions but I remained focused; and in the end, the same people returned back to sing praises of the finished work. This final acceptance of what was initially unacceptable in an achievement as far as I am concerned.

JU: You have used the word waste to describe the materials you gathered together for this work; and just now, you have also talked about the initial rejection and indifference your effort to put up this masterpiece received.  How would you want to reconcile the idea that something beautiful like this, something aesthetic, can come out of what you call waste?

DY: [Pause] I believe you can get beautiful things from waste materials. It’s about looking at it. As I said earlier, give yourself time to think what you can do. So when I looked at the materials before me, I realised that I can transform them into something acceptable. I realised that I can also inculcate African patterns and motifs, I can look at, say, Coca-Cola cans and introduce lines and motifs so that when people are having a second look at it, they won’t really be seeing waste materials but a transformation of it. People interact with the society the way they see it; immediately they are made to see these junks and dirt differently in the work, they started appreciating it. We should be able to appreciate our environment. That is when we can have peace. Rather than degrading the environment with the way we dispose waste materials, we can begin to say, “Oh, this Coca-Cola I am disposing can actually be used for something else”.  In this way, people’s minds are not only opened up, it also gives the inclination that nothing is really useless. 

JU: There is also a common sanitary clause in Lagos which says: “Keep Lagos Clean” and another one which says: “Keep UniLag Clean”. We notice that some artists are using their works to promote this message by using recycled materials to create art. Do you have that inbuilt intention when you started to put this up?

DY: Yes. Yes, because of recent, UniLag has a waste bin with three different colours. There’s red, there’s green, and there is another one. One is paper, one is can, one is plastic, and so when I’m working on the project if I need plastic, red, I go straight to that one. I think there should be exhibition where art works created from recycled materials and junks are displayed. In this way awareness will be created in people to actually see that what they call waste can actually be put into positive use; and they [the society] can begin to keep these waste items properly. People will start talking to themselves: “this thing might be useful; I shouldn’t damage it or dispose it inappropriately”. So, to an extent, this is another way of keeping the environment clean. And this is the whole idea of rebranding; not necessarily rebranding the environment, but re-branding the mind of people so that they can see waste appropriation as an aspect of environmental management system (EMS). Once they get it right, then the environment becomes free from dirt, and you don’t necessarily have to be there; in fact, you can’t be very where. A perfect example was when I was doing the project; having been well informed of what I was doing, people started picking up waste materials and dumping them at a point near my studio, even when I am not around. All I need to do is thank them, pick it up and put it into use in my work. The mechanism is simple, people saw that what I was doing is good, and without being told, they understand that the solid waste they generate, like Coca-Cola cans, are useful to my work; so rather than dispose it in the usual way, the just routinely drop it near my project work. So if people can be made to understand, if they can have a channel, they won’t dispose their waste indiscriminately. They will dispose or keep it in such a way that people who need it can come and gather it and take it away. That’s the way I’m seeing it.   

JU: Thank you so much. This beautiful edifice and your description of how you were able to put the materials together is referred to as “good housekeeping” in safety parlance- a situation where things are kept properly. Talking about keeping things properly, did you notice that people drop things indiscriminately: paper to rubber, rubber to tin while you went on collecting your materials from your selected bins?

DY: Yes, I saw some waste indiscriminately disposed. I saw papers where I am supposed to see cards; however, I must confess that the whole thing is a gradual process. You will agree with me that prior to the availability of waste bins, people have been dropping waste materials like cans and papers on the floor; but now, they are dropping in the bins, but not in a proper way. Both with time, and with the kind of job artists, like myself, are doing, orientation will change. So I say again, if you want to rebrand, you rebrand the mind, not the environment.

About the author:  John Uwa is a project researcher on the DirtPol project and is concerned primarily with issues pertaining to dirt in media and communication.  John's based in Lagos, has an MA in English Literature and speaks Yoruba, English and Pidgin.

About the project: DirtPol is an international cultural studies project based at the University of Sussex.  For more information please visit www.sussex.ac.uk/dirtpol

Follow DirtPol on Twitter: @ProjectDirtPol